Shelf Awareness for Friday, January 29, 2021

Margaret K. McElderry Books: Tender Beasts by Liselle Sambury

Scholastic Press: Heroes: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Alan Gratz

Flatiron Books: Anita de Monte Laughs Last by Xochitl Gonzalez

Peachtree Publishers: King & Kayla and the Case of the Downstairs Ghost (King & Kayla) by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers

Doubleday Books: The Husbands by Holly Gramazio


Community Rallies Around Nappy Roots Books in Oklahoma City

With the help of community members, Nappy Roots Books in Oklahoma City, Okla., has been able to pay back rent and prevent eviction, the Oklahoman reported. Store owner Camille Landry asked her customers for help last week, and the response was swift, with the community rallying around the store.

Landry opened the bookstore in 2018. At the time it was the city's only Black-owned bookstore, though others have opened since. Things were going well before the pandemic hit, Landry told the Oklahoman, but the store wasn't able to reopen after the mandatory shutdowns until mid-June. She hosted events in the store's parking lots, but those did not drive sales.

Despite all of the support she's received over the last week, Landry noted that the struggle isn't over yet, and won't be as long as the pandemic is going on. "We're funded by our Social Security checks and the goodwill of our community." She added that she is trying to work with the city to get financial assistance, though she was unable to receive funding tied to the CARES Act.

Holiday House: The Five Impossible Tasks of Eden Smith by Tom Llewellyn; The Selkie's Daughter by Linda Crotta Brennan

Early Demand for Amanda Gorman's Titles Sparks Million-Copy First Printings

To meet the overwhelming early demand for upcoming books by Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman, her publisher will print one million copies of each, CNN reported. The titles have already hit bestseller lists as pre-orders. 

"Our goal has been to publish and release the The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country as soon as possible," said Shanta Newlin, executive director of publicity and corporate communications at Penguin Young Readers. "We initially set a publication date of April 27 and today announced a new and improved date of March 16." This hardcover gift edition of the Inaugural Poem will include a foreword by Oprah Winfrey.

The two other titles, The Hill We Climb and Other Poems, the author's debut poetry collection, and her debut picture book, Change Sings: A Children's Anthem, illustrated by Loren Long, will be published September 21 as previously scheduled.

Gorman also made headlines this week: she signed with IMG Models, and was invited by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to recite an original poem before Super Bowl LV on February 7. That poem will highlight three individuals the NFL is honoring "who served as leaders in their respective communities during the global pandemic."

Amistad Press: The Survivors of the Clotilda: The Lost Stories of the Last Captives of the American Slave Trade by Hannah Durkin

Tracy Deonn: Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award Winner

Tracy Deonn grew up in central North Carolina, where she devoured fantasy books and Southern food in equal measure. After earning her master's degree in communication and performance studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she worked in live theater, video game production and K-12 education. Earlier this week, Deonn won the CSK/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for her debut YA novel, Legendborn, published by Margaret K. McElderry Books.

It's terribly exciting to win the CSK/John Steptoe--how are you feeling?

Feeling absolutely incredible! I keep thinking of these three words: "Honored. Affirmed. Emboldened." Legendborn was truly born from such a personal place that working on it always made me feel both exhilarated and vulnerable. I wrote the book I always wanted to read and tried things, from a craft and genre standpoint, that I'd never seen before. This recognition feels like an acknowledgement of not just the work I put into the novel, but the work the novel itself can do out in the world. I'm very proud of myself and the editorial team who helped bring Legendborn to life, and I feel emboldened to take risks and keep writing stories that exhilarate me.

The concept of Legendborn is utterly entertaining--a contemporary Black and Southern twist on Arthurian legend. What inspired this book?

The first kernel of Legendborn was born when I lost my mother. At that time, I learned that she had lost her mother at the same age that I lost her, and that the same had occurred with my grandmother and great-grandmother--a strange pattern with no explanation. I was raised on science fiction and fantasy, so I immediately began to imagine a girl who could go on an epic, magical journey to find out why her mother died. That girl became Bree and that journey is the core of Legendborn.

Sometimes people ask if I was inspired by King Arthur, but Arthur actually came up later on as I explored ideas about grief and loss and legacy, when I started asking "Whose lives and losses get forgotten and go unexplained, and whose lives and losses become legendary?" Arthur came up pretty naturally for me as one of our oldest collective legends. Living in the South most of my life, I know that same question is in the air we breathe: "Whose lives do we memorialize?" So, North Carolina was the perfect place to support this story.

How did you create this consistent and coherent magical world?

Solid magic systems are very fun to create! I adore them as a reader, and I dedicated close to 18 months designing and stress-testing Legendborn's hard magic system. ("Hard" meaning it has strict rules.) I had two main goals for the magic of the book. The first goal was that, as a contemporary fantasy, the magic needed to feel believable and real. That meant I had to come up with ways to keep magic hidden from normal everyday humans, create consequences for its use and develop specific limitations on each type of power. The second goal was that, as a story set in a world where King Arthur and the Round Table really existed, I needed to create a magic system that would believably allow their descendants to hold power via bloodlines 1,500 years later. To do this, I spent a long time mapping out bloodlines and generations, and designed rules that would allow these "Legendborn" kids to realistically keep a magical war going in the modern day. The Arthurian literary tradition is actually based on authors taking parts of prior Arthurian stories from centuries past and reworking them in new ways. I followed that tradition and selected the legends and concepts that most supported the story I wanted to tell.

What do you hope readers take from Legendborn?

I hope that readers walk away with a more inclusive understanding of grief, because it isn't just one thing. Grief is a constellation of emotions, some traumatic, and healing doesn't have to look like "getting over" all of that. Sometimes healing means integration. I hope that the book invites readers to look at the body of work that we call Arthurian legend, as well as other legends, and wonder whose stories are going untold and why.

What are you working on now?

I'm working on the sequel to Legendborn, which is both exciting and challenging! I'm also working on early concepts for a couple of short stories and a fandom project or two.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell Shelf Awareness readers?

I wanted to fully explore contemporary fantasy by holding myself and the book accountable to both the contemporary and the fantasy sides of the subgenre. I needed to write a book that could challenge systems of power, whether that's magical power or real colonial violence or tools of racial and gender oppression. Winning the Steptoe feels like a huge win not just for me and this book, but for fantasy as a genre and Black American fantasy in particular. I definitely feel connected to the lineage of Black authors before me who have pushed at the boundaries of the speculative as a form of real-world resistance. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

How Bookstores Are Coping: 'Running a Marathon'; Local Support

In Menlo Park, Calif., Kepler's Books is open for in-store browsing and pick-up service, reported CEO Praveen Madan, but the store's hours are limited and in-store capacity is kept below the limit set by the state and county guidelines. And while the store is closed to the general public on Mondays, there are special shopping and pick-up hours for seniors and immunocompromised individuals. 

Madan noted that staff and customer safety is the store's number one priority, and he and the Kepler's team have learned that managing a business during this pandemic is like "running a marathon, not a sprint," and they have to pace themselves.

The Kepler's team has made a "considerable investment" in improving ventilation at the store. The largest change has been renovating the 75-foot-wide window at the front of the store. Significant portions of the wall have been replaced with multiple new doors that can stay open during business hours. The store also upgraded the filters in its HVAC systems to medical-grade MERV-13 filters, and several air purifiers have been added to the sales floor. Kepler's asked its staff to start wearing KN95 masks as soon as they became available, and face shields are available for staff members who want additional protection.

During the holidays, Kepler's set up an open-air bookstore in the plaza adjacent to the store, allowing customers to buy books and gifts without having to go inside or wait in line. Initially the team had planned to do this only for the holidays, but it proved so popular that they'll keep the open-air bookstore going "as long as needed."

On the subject of holiday sales, Madan said they "exceeded our wildest expectations." Sales during December 2019 set records, and the Kepler's team was concerned that December 2020 sales would "fall far short" of those highs. They initially set a sales forecast that predicted Kepler's would be down by "at least 20% compared to December 2019," but sales ended up being on par. Around 40% of the store's December sales came through the website and another 10% over the phone.

Madan added that according to Edelweiss, Kepler's was the #1 store in Northern California for sales of A Promised Land by Barack Obama and the #3 store nationally for sales of The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. Holiday gift guides and staff recommendations also helped drive holiday sales.

Looking ahead into 2021, Madan said the team tends "not to worry too much about the short-term ups and downs and focus on the long-term picture." Early in the pandemic the store made a commitment to avoid layoffs, keep the team together and prioritize well-being. That has turned out to be a "hugely rewarding approach," with Madan pointing out that no one was laid off and there were no pay cuts. There were also no interruptions in the store's biannual profit-sharing/bonus program, and they "even managed to do some promotions and pay raises." The focus on staff inclusion and well-being is part of Kepler's next-generation bookstore model, and that won't change going forward.


Pat Rudebusch, owner of Orinda Books in Orinda, Calif., said her store is open for business with the "usual Covid safety protocols" and capacity capped at 25%. Rudebusch noted that the space is fairly large, and hitting capacity was only an issue on a few days around the holidays. The store will accommodate people who prefer curbside pick-up and until recently was offering same-day delivery to nearby communities.

Online orders have picked up significantly during the pandemic, though Rudebusch pointed out that the store "didn't have much of an online presence before Covid." Holiday sales were comparable to past years, which was a surprise, and the store "certainly benefited" from the community making an effort to support local businesses. She added that due to worries about Covid, it seemed like more people chose to shop closer to home at smaller stores rather than venture to the large malls.

Customers haven't been taking the time to browse as they normally would, Rudebusch continued, and with the exception of puzzles, sales of sidelines and other impulse items have been relatively weak.

So far, things have been going well in 2021, but Rudebusch finds herself still worrying "that things will go south." Nevertheless, people are still buying books and "they're buying them locally." Rudebusch also said she hoped publishers know "how much we appreciate the special terms they've extended" during the pandemic, adding that they gave her "a bit more confidence" when ordering for the holidays. --Alex Mutter

Marta Hallett Founds G Editions, Illustrated Book Publisher

Marta Hallett

Marta Hallett, who has a long career in illustrated books, is launching G Editions, which will publish illustrated books, principally in the areas of art and photography, with a focus on fine art and photography monographs along with author-centric titles in the gift categories. The company intends to publish approximately 12 titles a year and will be distributed by Ingram's Two Rivers Distribution division. The first two titles will appear this spring.

Hallett, who is CEO of G Editions, has published such artists as Fernando Botero, Hans Hoffman, Hunt Slonem, Don Bachardy, Charles Schultz, Fleur Cowles, Frank Gehry, Douglas Kirkland, Sandro Miller and Tyler Shields. She began her career at Harper & Row and then launched the co-edition company Running Heads, which she co-directed until its acquisition by the Quarto Group, in 1993. She has been v-p and publisher of HarperCollins' Collins division; v-p and publisher of Smithmark and the imprint S Editions, now part of the Abrams Group; and v-p and publisher of Rizzoli International Publications. In 2002, she founded Glitterati Incorporated, a publisher of nonfiction books for adults and children with high literary content and exceptional design and manufacturing, distributed by National Book Network.

Hallett said, "This is an exciting time to launch G Editions, having the focus on publishing works of art, which are no longer exclusively niche categories, but have expanded into virtually every corner of popular interest, providing endless concepts and themes that can now be explored visually."

Marketing and publicity for G Editions will be directed by Darcy Cohan, and Alexandra Feinman will manage digital marketing and promotions. Gloria Blanco heads finance and business operations.

Shelf Awareness Delivers Indie Pre-Order E-Blast

Last Wednesday, Shelf Awareness sent our monthly pre-order e-blast to nearly three-quarters of a million of the country's best book readers. The e-blast went to 729,936 customers of 153 participating independent bookstores.

The mailing features eight upcoming titles selected by Shelf Awareness editors and a sponsored title. Customers can buy these books via "pre-order" buttons that lead directly to the purchase page for the title on each sending store's website. A key feature is that bookstore partners can easily change title selections to best reflect the tastes of their customers and can customize the mailing with links, images and promotional copy of their own.

The pre-order e-blasts are sent the last Wednesday of each month; the next will go out on Wednesday, February 24. Stores interested in learning more can visit our program registration page or contact our partner program team via e-mail.

For a sample of Wednesday's pre-order e-blast, see this one from Octavia Books, New Orleans, La.

Obituary Note: Janet Woods

Australian author Janet Woods, who wrote 38 novels and was a member of several author associations, including the Romantic Novelists' Association and Romance Writers of Australia, has died, the Bookseller reported. She was 81. Her works included the A Dorset Girl series, Tall Poppies and Lady Lightfingers.

Kate Lyall Grant, her publisher, said: "I am very proud to have been Janet Woods’ publisher both at Simon & Schuster and, more recently, at Severn House. Her tales of dashing dukes, lovelorn heroines and scandalous secrets in Regency and Victorian England were characterized by a wonderful esprit and joie de vivre. I only met Janet once in person--and I only wish I could have seen her more often--but when I did, I was struck by her warmhearted, generous, bubbly personality, the same spirit which infused her writing. Both we and her readers will miss Janet very much, but I’m sure her writing will live on to entertain and enthrall future generations."

Agent Kate Nash added: "Janet became one of my very first agency clients in 2009. Her original agent, Bob Tanner at International Scripts, had died and his partner kindly came to my house with a big box of books and contracts, and a valuable verbal handover. I was thrilled. Janet’s novels were charming and clever, her acutely observed characters waded through dramas of family and love."

Alison Larsen, Woods's daughter, recalled: "Firstly and most importantly, Mum had to give all four of her children a personally signed book, for free. When Mum died she was still working on her latest story and we were all, as with each book, proudly looking forward to our next read, signed and complimentary of course."


Personnel Changes at Princeton Architectural Press; Sourcebooks

Kim Dayman is joining Princeton Architectural Press as marketing director, effective February 1. She has more than 20 years of experience in publishing, working in marketing at Penguin Random House, Wiley, Diversion Books and most recently HarperCollins. For the past year, she was director of marketing & brand strategy for, a nonprofit for young people and social change.


Mandy Chahal has joined Sourcebooks as senior marketing associate for Poisoned Pen Press. Prior to running her own businesses, she was assistant marketing manager at HarperOne in San Francisco, where she served as brand manager for the C.S. Lewis estate.

Media and Movies

TV: The Great Gatsby

A+E Studios and ITV Studios America are teaming with writer Michael Hirst for a big-budget TV series based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. "A network is not yet involved as the co-producers plan on shopping the series to premium cable and streaming outlets," Deadline reported.

The project is envisioned as a closed-ended miniseries, with Hirst (ElizabethThe TudorsVikings) writing the script and executive producing alongside Groundswell Productions' Michael London (SidewaysMilk). Deadline noted that Fitzgerald's estate is also involved. Blake Hazard, a great-granddaughter of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and a trustee of the estate, will serve as a consulting producer.

"I seem to have lived with Gatsby most of my life, reading it first as a schoolboy, later teaching it at Oxford in the 1970s, then re-reading it periodically ever since," Hirst said. "Today, as America seeks to reinvent itself once again, is the perfect moment to look with new eyes at this timeless story, to explore its famous and iconic characters through the modern lens of gender, race and sexual orientation. Fitzgerald's profoundly romantic vision does not prevent him examining and exposing the darker underbelly of the American experience, which is why the story speaks to both tragedy and hope, and why it continues to resonate today."

The miniseries "will explore New York's Black community in the 1920s as well as the musical subculture," Deadline wrote. Farah Jasmine Griffin, William B. Ransford professor of English and comparative literature and African-American studies at Columbia University, will be a consultant on the series, working with Hazard and Hirst.

Hazard commented: "I have long dreamt of a more diverse, inclusive version of Gatsby that better reflects the America we live in, one that might allow us all to see ourselves in Scott's wildly romantic text. Michael brings a deep reverence for Scott's work to the project, but also a fearlessness about bringing such an iconic story to life in an accessible and fresh way. I'm delighted to be a part of the project."

Books & Authors

Writers' Trust Fiction Prize Renamed to Honor Margaret Atwood, Graeme Gibson

The Writers' Trust of Canada is renaming its fiction prize in honor of Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson and increasing the purse, CBC reported. The Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize will award C$60,000 (about US$47,110) to the year's best work of fiction, up from C$50,000 (about US$39,260). The prize will now be funded by businessman and philanthropist Jim Balsillie, former co-CEO of Research in Motion.

The Writers' Trust of Canada has awarded an annual fiction prize since 1997. Last year's winner was Gil Adamson for her novel Ridgerunner. Although neither Atwood nor Gibson were ever nominated for the award, they were among the five co-founders of the Writers' Trust of Canada, along with Pierre Berton, Margaret Laurence and David Young. Gibson, who died in 2019 at the age of 85, and Atwood were longtime partners.

"The Writers' Trust is the quiet giant of Canadian literature and Graeme and I often marveled at how far it had come over the years," Atwood said. "We knew the role a major prize could have on a writer's confidence and career, not to mention their bank account. I can't wait to discover the new voices and new stories that this prize rewards."

"The Atwood Gibson Prize is fantastic news for Canadian writers," said Young. "Margaret and Graeme lit the founding fire that brought the Writers' Trust into being so many years ago. This prize is a perfect way to commemorate their vision and commitment to the broad ecosystem of our literary culture."

Awards: AAAS/Subaru SB&F Winners

Winners have been announced for the 2021 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books. Sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Subaru of America, the awards recognize "outstanding science writing and illustration for children of all ages with the aim of encouraging the creation of even more quality books to foster children’s understanding and appreciation of science." This year's winning titles are:

Picture Book: Mario and the Hole in the Sky: How a Chemist Saved Our Planet by Elizabeth Rusch, illustrated by Teresa Martínez
Middle Grades: Can You Hear the Trees Talking?: Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest by Peter Wohlleben
Hands-On Book: This Is a Book to Read with a Worm by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen
YA: The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another by Ainissa Ramirez.

"Kids are natural scientists. We celebrate books that help them expand their understanding of the world and introduce them to the people behind the discoveries," said Sarah Ingraffea, awards manager of the prize at AAAS. "These books foster a love of science and learning through fascinating stories and inspiring people."

Reading with... Julie Carrick Dalton

photo: Sharona Jacobs

Julie Carrick Dalton is the author of Waiting for the Night Song (Forge, January 12, 2021) and The Last Beekeeper (2022). Her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, BusinessWeek, Electric Literature, the Chicago Review of Books and other publications. She is a frequent speaker and workshop leader on the topic of fiction in the age of climate crisis. Dalton owns a small farm in rural New Hampshire that inspired the setting for her debut novel.

On your nightstand now:

We Can Only Save Ourselves by Alison Wisdom; Wild Women and the Blues by Denny S. Bryce; The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado; The New Wilderness by Diane Cook; Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen; The Midnight Library by Matthew Haig; Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper. In elementary school I spent summers at my grandparents' farm in the Appalachian corner of Maryland. No phone. No TV. No hot running water. Not even a radio. The Dark Is Rising books transported me and helped me see the possibility of magic in a creaky farm house and the endless woods.

Your top five authors:

Barbara Kingsolver, Jesmyn Ward, Alice Hoffman, Amitav Ghosh and Octavia Butler.

Book you've faked reading:

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I've never seen the movie or discussed the plot with anyone. Whenever someone brings it up, I stealthily steer the conversation to another topic. The worst was when my daughter read it in high school. She loved it, and I had to slither out of the room every time she brought it up.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Everyone should read Light from Other Stars by Erika Swyler! I love passionate, nerdy, science-loving girls who grow up to do bold, amazing things. Swyler hits the perfect balance of science, speculation and heart.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The cover of The All-Night Sun by Diane Zinna grabbed me right away. The colors, the woman's braid and the brushstrokes evoke a sense of longing before you even know what the book is about. Simply gorgeous. I admit it was the cover that attracted me, but I can assure you Zinna's writing is just as beautiful as the cover art.

Book you hid from your parents:

Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks. I had no idea what it was about when I scooped it up at a school book swap in fifth grade. I read it under the covers by flashlight and kept it hidden from parents because of all the drugs and sex. It had a huge impact on me. I remember in high school when kids I knew started experimenting with drugs, the first thing I thought was: Are you crazy? Have you read Go Ask Alice?

Book that changed your life:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I was immediately drawn in by the feisty young Jane when I read it for the first time in high school. I've read it once a decade ever since, and I discover something new every time. There's a lot to like about this book, but there are also things about it I don't love. Sometimes I want to scream at Jane to make different choices. And to be honest, I don't love the way it ends. But it's those perceived imperfections that keep me coming back. Reading Jane Eyre made me realize I could disagree with an author's choices yet still love the book. (Fun fact: I named one of my four children Bronte because of my obsession with Jane Eyre.)

Favorite line from a book:

The first line from One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice." How could anyone read that sentence and not want to read the rest of the book?

Five books you'll never part with:

I cherish the copy of Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies I read while working on my master's thesis about writers who use food to develop character. I scribbled all over that book, dog eared it and highlighted it to death. Those stories are my comfort food.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans is a nonfiction beauty about the lives of tenant farmers during the Great Depression. I read it for a journalism class in college and was inspired by the idea that artists can capture bits of life in words and images to evoke empathy capable of changing readers' hearts.

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. My mother read it to me over and over, and I read it to my own four kids. My childhood copy fell apart from use, so I framed the end pages, which now hang in my kitchen. But don't worry, I have two other intact copies. Waiting for the Night Song is very loosely based on elements of Blueberries for Sal: a girl goes blueberry picking, gets distracted, makes poor decisions, encounters a bear, makes better choices and eventually finds her way home.

And lastly, I'll never part with my advanced reading copies of The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner and The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson. These two smart, beautifully written books feel like siblings to my own debut, Waiting for the Night Song. Sarah, Nancy and, I formed an accountability/support group during the early months of the pandemic as we were all three gearing up to launch our debut novels. We still meet up on Zoom every Sunday to vent, ask questions, share good news and keep each other motivated as we work on our second novels. I've pre-ordered hardcovers of both of their books, but the ARCs will always be meaningful reminders of how beautiful books and great friends helped me survive my debut year in the middle of a global pandemic.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Beloved by Toni Morrison. Morrison uses words with masterful precision that cut deeply and leave readers changed. I'd love to read Beloved again without knowing where it would take me or how it would affect me.

The TED Talk you would give on any literary topic:

I'd give a talk on the role storytelling plays in the way we discuss the climate crisis. I'm a huge fan of climate fiction--fiction that engages climate science. Whether they are thrillers, dystopian, contemporary, literary or combinations of genres, climate fiction offers a way to convey climate narratives to people who might not be interested in charts, graphs or research. It allows us to enter worlds that don't yet exist and imagine a changed future Earth--while we still have time and the ability to avoid that future. Cli-fi can also build empathy by illuminating the fact that the climate crisis is already here, it's already affecting populations around the world. If you think it isn't affecting you yet, maybe you need to check your privilege and ask who is being affected first and worst--and why.

Book Review

Review: Gay Bar: Why We Went Out

Gay Bar: Why We Went Out by Jeremy Atherton Lin (Little, Brown, $28 hardcover, 320p., 9780316458733, February 9, 2021)

Jeremy Atherton Lin brings a wise, wry voice to his masterful Gay Bar: Why We Went Out. This thoughtful study is part memoir, part research project, part travelogue and a large part classic essay-as-assay, seeking answers on the page. His subtitle indicates a wondering: Why did we go out? The answers are various; they change over time and of course are personal for Lin, but he progresses toward an understanding of what the gay bar really was, is and might be. "The question arises as to what distinguishes an enclave from a quarantine, and whether either is any longer necessary." If gay no longer needs a bar, is this a victory, or a loss?

"A salon of effete dandies engaged in witty banter, a lair of brutes in black leather, a pathetic spot on the edge of town flying a lackluster rainbow flag for its sole denizen--one lonely hard drinker. Of course, a gay bar can be all these things and more." Gay Bar is a personal history and a history in the traditional, researched sense: it relates Lin's coming-of-age as well as a world of gay bars, from the scintillating to the sordid, dating back hundreds of years. Seven sections are devoted to locations--bars or neighborhoods--and represent epochs, both in Lin's life and in the lifetime of the gay bar. Lin's specific bars are located in London, Los Angeles and San Francisco, over the course of decades. He ranges through LGBTQ topics including protests, hate crimes, the gay rights movement, relationships with law enforcement, Stonewall and Harvey Milk, and gay-bar topics of sexual consent, music, booze, poppers and pills. Lin considers race, gender and class, and questions exploitation and appropriation. His broader subjects include community and identity, bar and nightlife culture, people's relationships to place and more--this book has something for every reader.

Lin's writing is consistently intriguing, descriptive and lovely: "the cranes and glassy high rises hover like chaperones." As narrator he is by turns pensive, funny, self-deprecating, exasperated and reverent; he can be delightfully suggestive. "A pipe spilled chlorinated water. The brickwork had grown mossy down the length of its trajectory, like a viridescent trail-to-adventure on the building's belly." Gay Bar is enriched by the voices of others--thinkers in history, philosophy, literature and queer theory--but Lin never loses his own. This exploration is personal, deeply researched, smart and essential. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Shelf Talker: This superb, multifaceted book takes a close look at gay bars individually and as concept, in history and in the author's life, tackling big questions with wisdom and grace.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Bookseller Moments--Where Isn't Bernie?

Where's Bernie? At some point during the week after President Joe Biden's Inauguration ceremony, a photo of bemittened Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders entered the Meme Hall of Fame. I suspect you already know that. But do you remember the precise moment when your brain patterns altered, and you suddenly realized that whenever anyone posted a photo on social media, your first instinct was to lean in and examine it for signs of Bernie in his chair, arms folded?

Now don't get me wrong, I love Bernie. Although I live in upstate New York now, I was born in Vermont and lived there until about a decade ago. I got used to the ubiquity of the Bern. And his mitten meme has helped raise about $2 million for charitable organizations. So I'm not complaining here.

I particularly loved all the Bernie-at-our-bookstore memes, both domestic and foreign. He was inside. He was outside. He even had fellow travelers: Schuler Books, Grand Rapids, Mich., posted on Facebook: "Some of our staff noticed a similarity between Miss Margaret dressed for storytime Saturday morning and a certain Bernie Sanders photo that's been making the rounds. Totally unintentional, but good for a smile." His international tour included a dancing Bernie video created by Welsh bookseller Addyman Books, Hay-on-Wye. The only place I never managed to spot him was in his own box during Zoom events.

What messed with me, however, was how quickly #BernieMittens rewired my brain. Part of my job here at the Shelf is to scan social media daily, looking for posts about bookstores and booksellers. Once Bernie became the antonym for Waldo (Where isn't Bernie?), I started hallucinating, seeing him even when he wasn't there. A beautiful bookstore pic would pop up on Facebook and instead of thinking about how lovely and inviting the place looked, I'd practically be reaching for a Holmesian magnifying glass to find Bernie. I know you're in here somewhere!

And indeed he kept showing up, which ruined, at least for a few days, one of my favorite occasional Shelf Awareness features: "Bookseller Moment." Usually, this is a photo capturing a precious instant of bookshop stillness, from the bookseller's perspective.  

Roebling Point Books

Consider some recent examples: Next Page Books, Cedar Rapids, Iowa ("The light. It's like magic."); Roebling Point Books & Coffee, Covington, Ken. ("It's the perfect day to pick up a new read!"; or Eureka Books, Eureka, Calif. ("Lights are flickering off and on with each big gust of wind today. We hope you guys are safe and cozy at home, curled up with a good book!"

Unfortunately, in the age of Covid-19 there are far too many pics of uninhabited bookshop sales floors, but that's a sad story, hopefully short, for another day.

Itty Bitty Bookstore

Although Bookseller Moments don't normally include people, the pandemic has added a measure of poignancy to photos that do, like a recent one of Itty Bitty Bookstore, Stoughton, Wis.: "Hello. Happy snowy day to you all! I just wanted to pop on here and say thank you all so much for your support and love! I truly appreciate you all so much!"

Among the international Bookseller Moments I've noticed lately are Harris & Harris Books, Clare, Suffolk, England ("Now there’s a glorious nugget of loveliness. I found these poppets on my bookboard this morning.... Hang in there readers, it will soon be Spring."); Bleak House Books ("You will forever be my friend--Hong Kong."); and Canada's Otis & Clementine's Books & Coffee in Upper Tantallon, N.S. ("Books in the afternoon light are so simply beautiful.")  

It turns out that you don't even have to be near your store to have a Bookseller Moment. The Frugal Frigate, A Children's Bookstore, Redlands, Calif., shared a video on Facebook, noting: "Logan is at the helm of the Frigate this afternoon so I took the opportunity to run up to Panorama Point before going home to get some 'office' time. It’s snowing!" And Pageturners Bookstore, Indianola, Iowa, posted: "I know you are all waiting with baited breath, but Karisa and I are still home waiting for our drives to be plowed. Even my trusty 4WD truck is no match for the drifts. As soon as we make it in, we’ll let you know!"

The Bookshop

A couple days ago, I happened upon a beautiful thank you note in the form of a Bookseller Moment. It was posted by Joelle Herr, owner of the Bookshop, East Nashville, Tenn.: "Confession: sometimes, when walking into the shop in the morning, I marvel a bit that this place actually exists, not to mention the fact that this July will mark five whole years slinging books on Nashville's East Side. As much as I would love to have a big to-do to celebrate that milestone, we’ll have to wait and see on that. In the meantime, just wanted to pause and offer yet another thank you to each and every one of you who’ve ordered books, popped by to browse, written positive reviews, shared our posts, helped spread the word about our existence, attended our events, signed up for our book clubs, participated in our reading challenge, and otherwise supported or cheered us on."

Now that, my friends, is a Bookseller Moment, and not a #BerniesMittens to be found anywhere in sight. Believe me, I doublechecked.

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